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Supervisors to hear testimony on choice for county counsel


Tuesday, June 24th, 2014
Issue 26, Volume 18.
Paul J. Young
Special to the Valley News
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RIVERSIDE - Provided there are no last-minute challenges to derail the process, Riverside County supervisors are expected to confirm today the appointment of Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos as the county's next chief counsel.

The Board of Supervisors last week interviewed Priamos, who arguably has not had an entirely unblemished track record during his 13 years as top legal adviser for the city of Riverside. Nonetheless, each board member came away confident he was the right man for the job, according to Chairman Jeff Stone.

Only one other person was interviewed -- Assistant County Counsel Anita Willis. Current County Counsel Pamela Walls is retiring, effective July 29.

Stone praised Priamos for doing a "remarkable job" beating lawsuits against Riverside. The chairman said the county needs the same strong hand heading its legal department.

"There's a lot of room for improvement there, and I think Mr. Priamos can implement the kind of changes we need," Stone told City News Service.

By virtue of his position, Priamos has been associated with questionable activity in city government.

In 2010, after Riverside police Chief Russ Leach was charged with misdemeanor DUI for wrecking a city-owned vehicle while under the influence, allegations surfaced that Priamos was among those in city government aware of an attempted cover-up but did nothing about it. A probe headed by former Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask found no evidence of wrongdoing.

During Priamos' watch, former Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson and former Assistant City Manager Tom DeSantis obtained semi-automatic handguns directly through the police department, sidestepping state and federal laws that required them to go through a federally licensed gun dealer. The two men later re-purchased the weapons using appropriate methods.

A few years later, several civic groups publicly complained after the city issued municipal records to a media outlet that appeared to rely on DeSantis's handwritten notes, as opposed to formal logs, per a California Public Records Act request. It was unclear whether DeSantis had sought Priamos's counsel prior to distributing the documents, which pertained to council members' and staff's use of municipal vehicles for potentially unauthorized purposes.

Questions about Priamos's stance on the city's practice of transferring money from a utility fund to the general fund without voter approval came up in 2011, when Riverside civic watchdogs Vivian and Javier Moreno challenged the transfers.

The pair eventually sued the city, alleging violations of Proposition 218, a statewide measure passed in 1996 that mandates any proposed increase in local taxes must be approved by a majority of affected voters.

The Morenos argued the annual transfers of utility revenue to the general fund constituted a tax on ratepayers, whose water user fees, they said, were among the highest in the region. The city settled the lawsuit, placing a measure on the June 2012 ballot asking voters to authorize the transfers for the benefit of public safety programs. The measure was approved.

However, according to Vivian Moreno, Priamos has done nothing to ensure that the city returns the $10 million it's supposed to deposit back into the utility fund under the legal settlement.

"Greg has no problem wasting taxpayers' money," Vivian Moreno told City News Service. "He will keep you in court no matter what the cost. He will just out-spend you. He talks soft. But he's got muscle."

The Morenos have chronicled what they deem suspect -- if not outright fraudulent activity -- by Riverside government officials, including Priamos, on their website: http://thirtymilesofcorruption.com/ .

Priamos declined to discuss anything related to his government tenure until after today's hearing.

Stone said that when board members interviewed Priamos, they asked him a number of "tough questions," and he convinced all of the supervisors that he had "acted morally and ethically."

"He has done his best to protect the city of Riverside," the chairman said, adding that he was particularly "impressed" by Priamos' strategy in battling to prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from being established in Riverside.

Despite legal challenges, the California Supreme Court ruled last year that the city had a right to prohibit dispensaries under zoning regulations.


 

3 comments

Comment Profile ImageFay Vic
Comment #1 | Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 at 5:42 pm
Priamos is just another made man in the Municipal Mob. They protect each other: hence, the limited interviews and the 4-yr contract.

Stone and Tavaglione obviously value as treasure for the County what many, including several Councilman within the city of Riverside didn't treasure. I think Priamos escaped the hangmans judge by getting out of City Hall before November's election forced his hand.

It may not be tomorrow, but eventually, we taxpayers will pay a steep price for this good ole boy decision.
Comment Profile ImageLetitia Pepper
Comment #2 | Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 3:50 am
Well of course! As a pharmacist who profits from over-priced, and therefore lucrative prescription drugs, Supervisor Stone WOULD be very impressed by anyone who can subvert the will of the People of California that medical marijuana be made available to all California residents who need it as medicine by spending millions of taxpayers' dollars to hire the expensive law firm of Best, Best & Krieger to try to keep dispensaries closed.
For 14 years I was a guinea pig for Big Pharma, as I tried to treat my multiple sclerosis with prescription drugs. I had horrid side effects, adn it was costing me $300 a month in out-of-pocket co-pays for teh privilege of nasty side effects. Since 2007, I've used only cannabis (marijuana) to treat my MS, and it works and saves me a ton of money, and NO SIDE EFFECTS! (Raw, unheated-by-smoking cannabis is not psychoactive; it has to be heated to 300 degrees F or more to be psychoactive.)
Given how Priamos has been less than ethical and moral himself as demonstrated by his behavior over the years, the fact he allegedly convinced ALL the supervisors that he's ethical and moral simpoly means that the Board of Supervisors' own moral and ethical compasses are NOT working. Scary!
Comment Continued : The comment above was written from the same location.
Post Continued
Comment Profile ImageLetitia Pepper
Comment #3 | Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm
I would really like to know why Supervisor Stone thinks Mr. Priamos did a remarkable job of beating lawsuits against the City. From the records some citizens have been able to get (it has been difficult) it looks like Mr. Priamos spent millions of dollars hiring Best, Best & Krieger, as outside legal counsel, to do a lot of the City's litigation. Is there something remarkable about fending off lawsuits when you have apparently unlimited access to City funds to pay outside counsel? I say unlimited, because according to the City Charter, contracts for outside legal help are supposed to be approved by the City Counsel. But public records act requests for copies of such contracts resulted in claims by the City Attorney office that there WERE no such contracts. So how could the City council ever review -- let alone manage -- Priamos's use of city money to pay for outside help? They couldn't.
In the 1990's, I actually represented one of the single family homeowners, a man who'd been living on SSI for more than 30 years, that Priamos had hired the SACRAMENTO office (not Riverside!) of Best, Best & Krieger to evict from his nice old family home on Pachappa Hill, apparently in order to benefit a neighbor, the Vespa dealership owner, who wanted the house for his own family. This is all a matter of public record, in the case of City of Riverside v. Kessinger.
BB&K used over 17 legal professionals: attorneys, paralegals, and law clerks, and earned over $204,000, to unsuccessfully put the house into receivership and take it at no cost to the neighbor. By the end of the case, I'd earned about $50,000 -- a quarter of what the City had spent -- and the neighbor, who'd first offered to buy the house for $200,000, still ended up having to pay the owner $400,000.
This case was really just a code enforcement case, that any municipal attorney's office should have been able to handle in-house, instead of flying two attorneys down from Sacramento, and using a whole lot more legal ammunition. Instead, Priamos spent $204,000 of taxpayer money so that the Vespa dealer could get a house he wanted, and then blamed ME, as though my zealous defense of a mentally impaired client under attack by a huge law firm and a city were the reason he spent so much money on such litigation. What a wise decision if you want to be sure to keep friends in high places. Apparently, it's working.

Article Comments are contributed by our readers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Valley News staff. The name listed as the author for comments cannot be verified; Comment authors are not guaranteed to be who they claim they are.

 

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